What does the New Obama Climate Change Plan Mean for Keystone – and what is Stephen Harper Doing about it?

On what has become the defining issue of his climate policy, President Obama stated that he would approve the Keystone XL pipeline, only if it “does not significantly exacerbate the climate problem.” In a New York Times interview in July, the President downplayed the job creation impact of Keystone XL, saying that, after construction, “we’re talking about somewhere between 50 and 100 jobs in an economy of 150 million working people.” See “Obama Says He’ll Evaluate Pipeline Project Depending on Pollution” (NY Times, July 28) at: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/28/us/politics/obama-says-hell-evaluate-pipeline-project-depending-on-pollution.html?ref=politics

On July 23, a Natural Resources Defence Council White Paper on the Keystone’s impact calls for the denial of approval on the grounds that the pipeline would exacerbate global carbon pollution. Further, the paper states, “Canada is not pursuing climate policy that would effectively counteract significant growth in greenhouse gas emissions, or meet its international climate target. … Current regulations in Alberta are inadequate, and despite promises from the last four Canadian federal environmental ministers, the Canadian federal government has not yet introduced rules to effectively limit greenhouse gas pollution from Canada’s oil and gas sector.” (See the White Paper at: http://docs.nrdc.org/energy/files/ene_13072301b.pdf).

Until now, the Canadian government has used the job creation and energy security arguments to promote oil sands development and the Keystone XL pipeline (as exemplified in its Go with Canada Website). But on September 6th, CBC reporter Chris Hall reported that Prime Minister Harper sent a letter to Obama in August, “formally proposing ‘joint action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the oil and gas sector'”. See Harper offers Obama climate plan to win Keystone approval (Sept. 6) at: http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/story/2013/09/06/pol-harper-canada-us-climate-change-strategy-letter-keystone.html.

So far, Obama has not responded to Harper’s proposal, and the Canadian government has not announced any new policies or regulations for GHG emissions. The Keystone XL decision is now deferred till 2014, after the U.S. State Department’s Inspector General confirmed a delay in the inquiry about potential conflict of interest in the environmental review process.

Meanwhile, the drumbeat of protest against Keystone XL goes on: a report released on August 29 by the Sierra Club and Oil Change International compiles data and failcommentary “from oil industry experts, Wall Street analysts, and Canadian politicians who say on the record that without Keystone XL the industry cannot expand production of tar sands crude”. Sources for the report include Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, Royal Bank of Canada, International Energy Agency, Standard & Poor, TransCanada, Government of Alberta, Scientific American, Financial Post, and others. Read the report: FAIL: How the Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline Flunks the Climate Test at: https://content.sierraclub.org/beyondoil/sites/content.sierraclub.org.beyondoil/files/documents/kxl-climate-report.pdf

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